Dada Life interview and video studio tour
The extrovert Swedish duo have been bashing out their tough Electro House sound for years and have added their eccentric touch to a multitude of big name remixes. FM heads to their bunker for some bananas and Champagne.
On the surface, these fun-loving Swedes project a less-than-serious producer image of crazy fun and endless good times. Don't get us wrong though, this is very much an accurate depiction. But, the combined knowledge and experience of Stefan Engblom and Olle Corneer is exactly what enables them to be slightly more fancy-free in the studio. With time spent producing hits for Japanese boy bands and side projects for TV and film, the Dada boys seem to have done it all. But it's the furious rip-roaring sound of Electro House that really gets their bananas peeling, and it's that reason exactly that we dropped in to see them. Their studio is based out of two adjacent rooms, where the boys previously worked withintheir separate aliases – mostly they work together in Stefan's room once a track is coming together, but separate rooms mean parallel projects and the freedom to pursue ideas separately. After stealing a few cookies from the kitchen, we bribe Dada Life with more chocolate and get given the tour.
"I hate those overly minimal Techno guys that are so serious they could shit themselves when DJing and they wouldn't even notice."
Did you know each other before Dada started?
Stefan Engblom: "We didn't know each other really,but we both had rooms next to each other. We realised we both made Dance music and thought we should try and make one together. It went so well that in a day we had a track and we decided to release it. I think we both then realised just how much more creative and inspiring it was to work in a duo, being able to bounce ideas off of each other."
What's that relationship like? Are you competitive or do you compliment each other?
Olle Corneer: "In the studio, we compliment each other, I think."
SE: "Yeah, we make twice the amount of mistakes! Although, it's those mistakes that end up being the something extra special in the tracks."
OC: "The first year or so we carried on our own individual projects too, but then we realised we needed to focus on working together."
SE: "We used to use Logic but then we switched to Ableton Live around two and a half years ago. We bounce the tracks back and forth between studios because we have exactly the same set up, same plug-ins, everything. This is the same for our laptops, so we can work on the road too."
OC: "We're big Drop Box users. We love Drop Box, it's really useful."
When you DJ do you play back to back?
SE: "Yeah, that's usually how it works. Unless one of us goes and stage dives, then maybe the other person will play two songs."
OC: "Yeah, you can't do that level of craziness when you're DJing on your own. It's hard to stage dive on your own! The crowd would have to know to push you back before the song finishes!"
How would you describe each other's particular skills in the studio?
SE: "I can sit on one track forever in the studio and I'm fine with it. But, Olle is all about getting stuff done which is a huge help. But we compliment each other too because I make sure we get all those details in because I fiddle around for ages and he encourages me to move on and get it finished."
Who has the best ears?
OC: "Him [Stefan]"
So you do the final mixes?
SE: "Usually, yes. The thing is sometimes when you sit too long with mixes you ruin the vibe. So Olle is good at making sure that doesn't happen."
Are you both musically trained?
SE: "Olle is an amazing musician."
You play keyboards? Guitar?
OC: "Yeah, a little bit of everything. But it's not as simple as saying he's the technical guy and I'm the musical one, because that switches up all the time. We just constantly rein each other in from working too much on the mix or too much on the music and creating overly complex melodies and music."
"You can hear plug-ins influence a whole genre, like when multi-band compressor plug-ins became really popular."
Did you have hardware back in the day?
OC: "Yeah I had a desk, loads of synths, but it's way better now being in the box."
SC: "Me too, I remember the first time I tried the ES1 in Logic. I couldn't believe you could just click 'Save' and it was all recallable."
What are the go-to synths for Dada Life?
OC: "For us in Dada Life, synths and effects aren't that important. It's the combinations that we do. We use a lot of the Ableton stock effects actually, but it's how we combine them on the synths."
SE: "We don't stack sounds though really. We might have one or two and treat them properly with effects. It feels much more pure on the dancefloor when you just treat one really good synth sound with a clever combination of effects."
Where do you think things are going next with music technology?
SE: "You never know, it changes all the time. You can hear plug-ins influence a whole genre, like when multi-band compressor plug-ins became really popular and you had tracks that sounded like they'd been mastered with multi-band plug-ins. We had it with [SugarBytes] Effectrix for our track Happy Hands Happy Feet. Everybody thought we'd used Effectrix to get the really fucked up vocal sound, but we actually did it the old school way by using a sampler and just messing with the pitch bend."
Do you guys do much sampling?
SE: "We both used to, but not with Dada Life. We keep thinking of going back because those limits that sampling impose on you are really good and it makes the process really fun."
You mentioned that you might move studios?
SE: "We are thinking of creating our perfect studio but in the mean time we just have to rent."
And it will still be two separate rooms?
OC: "Yeah, for us that works really well having two rooms because we can work in many different ways and change who's in the driving seat."
Is building this place possible now because of your career success?
SE: "It's not a safe thing to do, it's always a risk. Mainly, we didn't want to invest time and money into a new studio that isn't the perfect place. So until we find the place with windows, high ceilings and the right location, we'll have to continue to rent somewhere."
What about collaborations? The States is quite a crazy scene right now.
OC: "We've done some tracks for people like Flo Rida, but we just got credits as songwriters which we prefer. USA is our main focus right now because it's so good to play there."
How is the balance between touring and studio?
OC: "When you're on tour you get inspiration and want to get back in to the studio. Small things get stored in your memory banks from seeing the crowd react."
Do you think that scene will last?
OC: "I have no idea – it does seem sort of fragile because it happened very fast. But then again it might go on for a few years yet. I think it's impossible to tell..."
Do you change your process for Pop production?
OC: "When we get approached by labels to do this stuff they are after the Dada punch and the proper club mix, but with a Pop arrangement. So it's OK for us, we don't have to change and we have both been involved in Pop production before so we already have that mindset."
SE: "The Pop stuff is a super small part of the Dada Life career though. We're focusing on touring and doing an album."
Will that album be signed to a major label or are you going to go with a more independent label? SE: "We don't know yet. You can do it well both ways, it's just about finding the right people to do it with. People that are as stoked about the music as us. But the process of the album is going to be an organic thing, not like 'here's the single' or anything like that. We'll be releasing most of the tracks on the album but some might be for the underground and some might be big singles."
How do you choose your remixes?
SE "We listen to everything we get and we say no to a lot of them."
What makes you say no?
SE: "It's mostly about the artists and the labels that it comes from. But, it's much more fun to remix a good song. You can make a good remix from pretty much anything by taking a snippet of the vocal and using that, but we prefer it if it's a remix for an artist we really love."
You're saying it's a business decision, based on how big the artists are?
SE: Sometimes, but mainly just if we think the track and the artist would be fun to do.
Are these all for cash or do you do swaps?
OC: "We do remix swaps too, but mainly for our friends that are other Dance artists. It has to be mutually beneficial."
SE: "Afrojack is a guy we really admire from a technical point of view, as is Skrillex."
OC: "Skrillex is amazing actually, because he does so many of those tracks from start to finish while he's on the road."
Your image is quite tounge-in-cheek and fun...
SE "A lot of dance music has been too serious for too long, and now it seems that it's become much more playful. You can throw together loads of different styles and play around without taking it so seriously. I have to say I hate those overly minimal Techno guys that are so serious about things that they could shit themselves and they wouldn't even notice. They don't seem to have any fun at all, but I love the music that they make. Why don't they have fun with it?"
"We actually made a track, burnt it to disc and played it out and while it was playing we realised we'd forgotten to put all the effects sweeps and crashes on it..."
This is why you have champagne and bananas? How did that start? Were youtrying to take the piss out of a promoter or something?
SE: "No! It's actually very serious [laughs]. That's why it's on our rider. Bananas have a lot of energy in them and champagne is just the best drink."
OC: "We just noticed that we always had these two things. Plus, the banana has its own casing which makes it the perfect club food. You can't eat strawberries while DJing. No way."
What would you like to see happen technology- wise, if you could have things your way?
SE: "Some way to monitor tracks in your headphones so you can work on the road properly."
OC: "Maybe if we could take the sound from our studio and put it in some headphones. That would be perfect."
SE: "If we make a shit load of money, we'll buy a huge console, vintage rack gear and then we wouldn't use any of it! [laughs] But it's the dream and it's so inspiring to have around. Having seen Deadmau5 with his modular synth I thought, 'wow I want one of those, it looks like so much fun!'"
So where do your ideas come from?
SE: "Anywhere – for example we started the Do The Dada track one lunch time because the fork I had made a really cool metallic sound when I bashed it on the table. So if you listen close you can hear the fork sound!"
OC: "Most of the times we get an abstract concept of how we want a track to be. Hearing the full track almost in our heads first. Even to the point where Stefan will say maybe we should add this part and I listen in my head and decide, no it doesn't sound good [laughs]."
SE: "The funny part is that we work so much together now, all the stuff that definitely needs doing like crash cymbals, noise sweeps, the builds and the fills we forget to do, because we hear those obvious bits in our heads while we're working anyway. We actually made a track, burnt it to disc and played it out and while it was playing we realised we'd forgotten to put all the effects sweeps and crashes on it [laughs]. It's always the last thing we do though, because the theory is that if you can get it to land hard and be a huge track without the crashes and effects then it's going to be so massive when you add them"
OC: "Yeah it's the sauce on the steak!" Yeah, that's a top tip!
OC: "It's a top tip if you remember!" [laughs]
"We basically measure our success on how many people come to the club dressed in banana costumes."
Where do you see yourselves in twenty years?
SE: "I have no idea how Dance music will sound in twenty years."
OC: "It's moving so fast in little circles all influencing the next repeat of a style. In general all the music sounds louder, cleaner and better. Even when you compare tracks from five years ago, the difference in production quality is incredible."
Finished tracks are so complex in terms of automation and effects now. What does that leave for the DJs to do?
OC: Drinking champagne, eating bananas, stagediving... It's easy!
SE: "We basically measure our success on how many people come to the club dressed in banana costumes."
So when the club is 100% people in banana outfits, it's time to retire?
SE: "Yeah! [laughs] We played at a Halloween party in San Francisco to 40,000 people and we planned to dress up as two Viking ladies. But, the shop was out of those Viking lady outfits, so we got the inflatable fat Dutch lady outfits without thinking how hot we were going to get. I've never sweated so much in my entire life. I can't believe we didn't think of that before hand."